Hali Negotiations Reveal Much


On Friday, my esteemed colleague Mr. Jeremy Hanson esquire wrote that he didn’t want the Chiefs to break the bank for Tamba Hali.  Jeremy will always tell you what he thinks, popular opinion or not.  His take on this situation may not have been shared by many, but his reasons seemed rational enough.  Hali is one-dimensional.  He’s also reportedly asking for a deal similar to that given DeMarcus Ware, which is a hell of a lot of money.  We small-market teams have to use our money wisely, right?  Maybe we can’t afford to get into a bidding war, regardless of how much we love Tamba.

Nothing against Jeremy, or anyone else who shares his feelings, but the time has come to change that mindset.   There is no more salary cap, and even if there was, our days of coming anywhere near the limit are long gone.  When last there was a cap, in 2009, we were roughly $45 million below the limit.  In fact, the minimum level was set at $90 million, and we didn’t even come close to hitting that.  I don’t know whether there will ever be a salary cap again.  What I do know is that if there is, we will never need to worry about it.

What does this mean?  Essentially, it means our days of saying a player is “too expensive” are over.  We can afford anyone we want, and overspending on one player would not mean we have to pass on others.  If a player is indeed deemed “too expensive” by our front office, it is because our owner doesn’t want to shell out the money for him.  This team makes huge profits every year* and is far, far below where any future salary cap would be.  The only possible limitation on spending would be coming from within our own organization, right from the top.

*In 2006, when Clark Hunt took over as owner, Forbes magazine ranked the Chiefs the 13th most-valuable franchise in the league.  Under Clunt’s leadership, the team has slipped a little, but has never been ranked lower than 20th.  Put this together with a payroll at the bottom of the league and its not hard to figure out what kind of money the Chiefs have been generating lately.  Hunt likely turns a better profit than most of the other owners in the league, billionaires that they are.

I don’t know for sure whether such a limit is in place.  Scott Pioli swears there isn’t.  I do know that since Clunt took over the team, our payroll has dropped dramatically in relation to the rest of the league.  In 2007, his first full year as owner, our payroll was the third-lowest in the league, $25 million below average.  In 2008, we were dead last, almost $30 million below average.  In 2009, dead last again, and $25 million below average again.  This year we were second-lowest, a shocking $35 million below league average.  Is there a self-imposed limit in place?  Maybe, maybe not.  But we’re definitely spending less than everyone else.  Since Clark Hunt took over as owner, no other team can compete with our frugality.

more from your boy Big Matt after the jump:

But surely it’s always been like this, right?  Uh, no.  As recently as 2005 our payroll was in the top half of the league.  That used to be a common occurrence.  2005, 2004, 2002,  and 2000 all saw us spending more than at least half our contemporaries, as did many years in the 90s.  Bargain-basement payrolls did not become a reality for the Chiefs until Clunt took over as owner.

Of course, high spending doesn’t always equal success.  Any fan of the Redskins could tell you that.  But it definitely gives you a better chance.  The last six Super Bowl champions have all had payrolls in the top 10 of the league.  Winning with a low payroll can certainly be done.  The Chiefs, to some extent, did it this year, as did the Bucs.  But every team that won a playoff game this year spent over $120 million on payroll.  Every one.  Most of them spent significantly more.  We spent just over $84 million.

We have more than enough money to re-sign Tamba Hali.  The fact that we haven’t yet worries me, and it should worry you too.  I know its tempting to blame this on the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement, but that’s shortsighted.  The Chiefs were eager to re-sign Jamaal Charles and Derrick Johnson, so clearly they weren’t letting uncertainty rule their future plans.  Scott Pioli himself has said as far as he’s concerned its business as usual.  Lets not make the labor talks (or lack thereof) a scapegoat for the Hali negotiations (or lack thereof).  There is only one reason the Chiefs haven’t re-signed Hali: they don’t want to give him big money.

I’m forced to conclude that Scott Pioli has indeed been instructed to limit spending.  There is no other conclusion to reach.  I know people don’t want to believe Clunt is a miser, but the proof, from where I’m standing, is in the pudding.  When he makes as much or more than other owners, but won’t spend as much as other owners, what do you call that?  We’ve been brainwashed into calling it smart.  As if spending less than your opponents is wise regardless of the outcome.  I’m gonna go ahead and call it cheap.

Clunt essentially bullied KC taxpayers into paying the lion’s share of the stadium upgrade.  In 2005, he said the Chiefs would probably leave Kansas City if the stadium didn’t get a major face-lift.  Nobody seems to remember this, as it was before Clark Hunt was a household name in Kansas City.  He was just beginning to assert himself in team matters.  Heck of a start, right?  He was later given a chance to back down from the statement, and instead re-iterated it.  Kansas Citians were rightfully terrified of the Royals being being the only game in town, so we capitulated.  The end result was $250 million in taxpayer dollars vs $125 million from the Hunts.  In case you’re wondering, this was not a standard arrangement.  Since 2000, 15 stadiums have been built or renovated.  On average, a little over half of the money comes from public financing.  The Kansas City public paid 67%.

And lets not forget the primary function of the renovated Arrowhead: to generate more money.  For who?  Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.  From who?  Another easy answer.  A renovated stadium was just another way for Clark Hunt to get more of our money every year.  And our tax dollars helped him do it.

When I first saw the new Arrowhead, I was immediately struck by how much of the renovating had been done on the club level.  It looked to me like most of the money went to added suites and the indoor concourse.  Of course, there is no way that I know of to access accurate figures on that.  The last thing the Chiefs want is for any of us to get a glimpse at their books.  But I think its safe to say Joe Lunchpail was not the primary beneficiary of any of these upgrades.  The primary beneficiaries were the people who could afford the absolute most expensive tickets.  Or, if the empty club level is any indicator, the people that didn’t come to the stadium this year.  I’d love to see what they did to the owner’s box!

I’m sure some of you don’t want to hear this stuff.  That doesn’t make it any less true.  We all loved Lamar.  Clark is not Lamar.  Respect is earned, not inherited.  Clark is a guy who inherited a football team and uses it to take as much of our money as possible.  Some of you will no doubt retort that the Chiefs are a business.  Fine.  Do you know the owners of most businesses by name?  Do you revere them and their entire families?  Do you accept cost-cutting and consistently inferior service from them?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you are a very odd duck indeed.

Let’s confront the harsh reality here: the NFL owners, including ours, don’t care about anything other than getting as much of our money as they possibly can.  They walked out of the last CBA talks.  Literally got up and walked out.  Now I could be wrong about this, but I was under the impression walkouts are usually utilized by an oppressed minority, not a handful of billionaires.

When your decisions affect the lives of millions of people, you occasionally have to take things into account other than your own bottom line.  To refuse to do so is, for lack of a better word, evil.  If these owners have any humanity left, they’ll do what it takes to get a new deal in place.

And if Clark Hunt wants to earn our respect the way his father did, he’ll provide enough money to get Tamba Hali signed.  Anything else would be unforgivable. 

note: I got my numbers for this piece from many different websites, so some of them may not be exact.  For that reason, I tried to avoid listing precise figures where possible.  Calculating avg team salaries is never an exact science given the way teams hide all their official numbers from the public.   I did, however, spend hours combing the interwebs and comparing all the figures I could find.  Most of them were very similar.  I’m confident in the results.